Drifting and striding, in Hollywood and elsewhere, with Geoff Nicholson - author of The Lost Art of Walking, and Walking in Ruins withcholson, author of Toff Nidrifting and stomping withcholson, author of The Lost Art of Walking, considers the narrower and wider shores of obsessive pedestrianism.

Monday, July 21, 2014


Shared enthusiasms make for unlikely and sometimes uncomfortable bedfellows.  I like to walk.  But so did Bruce Chatwin and Albert Speer.  I’m not sure that really makes us three soul brothers. 

So in general when I come across an article about walking I usually read it, but I don’t necessarily expect that I’m going to be engaging with any fellow travelers.  This is wise.
I was directed to an article in the English Daily Telegraph, headlined, “Walking can make storytellers of us all” with the sub “Author Linda Cracknell explains how walking connects her to the landscape and inspires so much of her work.” I’m not familiar with Linda Cracknell or her work, though no doubt she’d say the same about me.  Apparently she wrote a book called Doubling Back and helpfully quotes one of her good reviews in the article, and to be fair it does sound sort of interesting.
Nevertheless, the piece opens with the words, “In 1976 I arrived alone in Boscastle for a week’s painting holiday with the sullen steps of a post-glandular-fever, first-time-in-love 17-year-old. ‘I’ve got here but feel terribly lonely and depressed,’ I complained to my diary on the first night.
Yep, she’s quoting her diary from 1976, so you know this isn’t going to go well.  She bangs on about her Ordnance Survey map and about “Tom, a bespectacled literature-lover staying at my guesthouse told me that Thomas Hardy had come here as a young architect.”
And so it goes on, until we discover, without huge surprise, that Linda Cracknell is a teacher of creative writing.  This is a picture of her apparently holding two halves of a potato (don’t ask).

 And she’s got some advice: “Here’s something you can try yourself when walking. Summon a character into your mind. Before you set out, invent a few characteristics for them, including what shoes they wear, why they’re in this place and what they carry in their pockets: a clue to hidden purposes. Then walk, making observations through the filter of their emotions and motivations. I hope you will find that asking “What if?” when engaging with a place through the senses and the rhythm of footfall is a kind of play that makes storytellers of us all.”  Did somebody mention “a good walk spoiled”?
 I’m not sure that walking does make storytellers of us all, but even if it did the real issue is surely whether it makes good storytellers.  W.G. Sebald was a walker.  Art Garfunkel was a walker (possibly still is).  Both also told stories of one sort or another.  But what does this actually tell us about them, or about walking, or about writing, or storytelling, or anything else really?
I could go on.  I won’t.

Meanwhile I got sent details of “Urbanscape + Ruralsprawl,” an event scheduled for Friday August 1st, in Edinburgh, described thus:  “Join us for a walk around Summerhall (which apparently is the former Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies – (hey I’m not making this up) to explore its surroundings as well as its many corridors, cupboards and lecture halls; some of them still undiscovered.” The rubric goes on: “Deveron Arts will lead a two hour performative walk with artist Tim Knowles and Ania Bas, who have been undertaking both urban and rural walking in the UK and elsewhere.”  I was rather enjoying the notion of walking in cupboards, and it looks like a great place from the photograph, but I lost it with the word “performative.”  Kids; juggling - that’s a performance, singing Pagliacci – that’s a performance.  Walking: that’s just walking.

Maybe all this is only to say there are as many ways of walking as there are walkers.  We do what we do, we do what we can.  We can’t all be Chatwin or Sebald or Speer. 
Then a few days back the BBC discovered (and I did think I’d seen this before somewhere) a document published by Her Majesty’s Government titled “Rules for Pedestrians.” 
There are 35 of them, and some of them frankly seem pretty sensible. “if you have to step into the road, look both ways first. Always show due care and consideration for others.” “Where there are no controlled crossing points available it is advisable to cross where there is an island in the middle of the road.”
Who’s going to argue with that?  Though I think you might argue that if you hadn’t already worked out this stuff for yourself, a government publication mightn’t be enough to convince you.  At no point does Her Majesty’s Government advise that when walking you should be “engaging with a place through the senses and the rhythm of footfall.”  At no point does it suggest that you do anything performative.  Sometimes even governments aren’t all bad.

Here are some links:

Linda Cracknell here:

Performative walking here:

The British Government here:

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